By Daniel Connolly, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
Mar. 15–With her eyes under protective white covers and her face slathered in a numbing cream and blue dye, the patient was ready for the burning to start.
The 61-year-old grandmother had come to a clinic in Germantown to have minor wrinkles and other blemishes improved with a Fraxel laser, a relatively new cosmetic method.
It’s the latest offering from McDonald Murrmann Women’s Clinic, a female-owned obstetrics and gynecology group which has set up a separate company within its offices to do cosmetic procedures.
“(The Fraxel) opens up a whole new door to us into what types of conditions we can treat,” said Sarah Carpenter, a registered nurse who handles cosmetics.
Carpenter and five of the clinic’s six doctors are partners in the private company, the McDonald Murrmann Center for Skin, Laser, and Healthy Aging, which took in about $600,000 in revenue in 2006.
The group spent $105,000 for its Fraxel laser and put it in use a few weeks ago. The maker of the device says it’s the first in Memphis.
“Sure, it’s a revenue generating thing to add to the practice, but if you don’t have the passion behind it to make a difference in women’s lives, it won’t work,” said Dr. Susan Murrman, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the clinic.
She said she believes cosmetic procedures can help women feel better about themselves and lead them to make healthier choices about diet and exercise. While most cosmetic patients are women, a few men go for the treatments.
The Fraxel laser makes a pattern of tiny round wounds in the skin. Over time, the wounds heal, encouraging the skin to produce new tissue, and skin blemishes ranging from acne scars to sun damage become smaller.
The procedure hurts, and treatments cost $750 to $1,500 each. Some patients may require multiple treatments for the desired effect.
It may seem a high price for beauty. However, it’s an improvement over earlier techniques, Murrman said.
“These are not extreme measures compared to what we used to do,” she said.
Dr. Tina Alster, a dermatologist affiliated with Georgetown University, agrees.
“Ten years ago, it was all the rage to literally vaporize the top layer of skin,” she said.
That led to a lengthy recovery, but the Fraxel and similar lasers made by other companies are less invasive, she said.
She said the Fraxel device and similar lasers from other companies have made older laser techniques obsolete.
She said her research shows it has a low complication rate. Among 961 cases she reviewed, only about 8 percent had problems, the most common being an acne outbreak.
But Dr. Harold Brody, a dermal surgeon affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta, said the results of the Fraxel aren’t as predictable as older laser techniques.
“From looking at the results of it, I’ve not been bowled over from what I’ve seen,” Brody said. “But it does deliver better results now than it did two years ago.”
And he said that patients are best served if they receive the treatment from a dermatologist, not a nurse.
Carpenter said she’s been doing laser procedures for more than three years.
“My thought on that is it’s the experience that counts,” she said.
And she said her nursing training and the fact that the procedure takes place in a clinical setting helps protect the patient.
“Should it be out there for just anybody to use? she said. “No, I think it should be controlled.”
The grandmother who came to the clinic Wednesday asked not to be identified because she didn’t want others to ask her about the procedure.
Carpenter started by rubbing the patient’s face with a numbing gel and a blue dye that increases the laser’s effect. She calibrated a computer and then began moving a handheld device attached to it in sweeps over the patient’s face.
The patient grimaced as Carpenter passed the device over the thin skin of her forehead. Later, she loudly said “Ouch!” as the device hit a tender point. A tube directed cold air onto the skin burned by the red laser. The computer made a series of electronic chirps as Carpenter controlled the beam with a foot pedal.
Carpenter swept the patient’s entire face, except for the part covered by the eye protection. She also swept the laser over the patient’s neck and upper chest.
When she was finished, Carpenter cleaned off the patient’s face, revealing what appeared to be a deep sunburn. Carpenter helped her put on sunscreen and makeup before she went to pick up her 3-year-old grandson.
“It was pretty painful,” the patient said. She said she’s not sure if she’ll seek another treatment. “I’m going to wait and see how this comes out.”
MCDONALD MURRMANN WOMEN’S CLINIC
Obstetrics and gynecology group with an affiliated cosmetic practice.
Addresses: 7705 Poplar Ave., Building B, Suite 110, Germantown. 6215 Humphreys Blvd., Suite 200, Memphis.
Web site: mmwc.md
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
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